The Emerging U.S. Energy Powerhouse
By Steve Goreham
Republished with permission of The Washington Times.
The United States is emerging as the world’s energy powerhouse. Two months ago, the US became the largest producer of crude oil. Exports of crude oil, oil products, and natural gas are rising rapidly. The “keep it in the ground” movement is losing ground.
US crude oil production in August reached 10.8 million barrels per day, more than double the 5 million barrels per day produced in 2008. Last February, US output surpassed that of Saudi Arabia. In August, US production exceeded that of Russia, making the US the world’s largest producer of petroleum.
US natural gas production is up 40 percent from 2007 to 2017. The US surpassed Russia as the world’s leading producer of natural gas in 2011.
Driving American energy dominance is the hydrofracturing revolution. Over the last two decades, US geologists and petroleum engineers perfected the techniques of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, permitting cost-effective extraction of oil and gas from low-permeability shale rock formations. US companies hold about a 10-year experience lead in shale extraction techniques over international competitors.
In 2000, only about 7 percent of US natural gas came from hydraulically fractured wells. Today about 70 percent of US gas production and over 50 percent of crude oil production comes from fractured wells. Fracking operations are active in more than 20 states.
US oil and gas production surged despite strong opposition from environmental groups. For more than a decade, green advocates have opposed drilling, fracking, pipeline transport, export terminals, and even investments in oil and gas. But the “keep it in the ground” movement is being trampled by the US energy juggernaut.
Along with the rapid rise in production, US oil and gas exports are exploding. US exports of refined petroleum products increased by a factor of five from 2004 to 2017. Our nation became a net exporter of refined petroleum products in 2011. In 2015, the Obama administration lifted a 40-year ban on US crude oil exports. Crude exports rose by 400 percent since 2014. The US still remains a net importer of crude oil, but oil imports have dropped to the lowest level since 2000.
In 2017, the US became a net exporter of natural gas, with Mexico the largest customer. Prior to 2010, terminals were under construction to import liquefied natural gas. But the fracking revolution produced a huge volume of gas at one-half of the price of gas in Europe and one-third of the price in Japan. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals started operation in 2016 at Sabine Pass in Louisiana and in 2018 at Cove Point in Maryland. Four other new LNG export terminals are scheduled to come on line by 2020.
Propane, a hydrocarbon fuel used for heating and cooking, is a notable example of success. Prior to 2010, the US was a net importer of propane. But US propane field production doubled since 2010 and exports now approach one million barrels per day.
About three billion people around the world do not have modern fuels for heating and cooking. India has a program to get liquid propane gas to 80 percent of households by March, 2019. Exports of US propane are meeting this need in India, along with needs in China and other nations. The Panama Canal expansion completed in 2016 allows supertankers to deliver US propane and natural gas to Asia.
A major benefit of US energy resurgence is an improved balance of trade in energy. In 2011, US energy imports exceeded exports by $325 billion. With growing production of oil and gas and rising exports, the US trade imbalance in energy fell to $57 billion in 2017. Energy plays a major role in the strength of today’s US economy.
The US plastics industry now enjoys a large cost advantage in global markets. US oil and gas refineries produce the lowest-cost ethylene and propylene in the world, the basic materials for plastics. US natural gas also provides a cost advantage for chemical and steel firms. Gas fuels generation of cheap electricity for aluminum, cement, paper, and other industries.
Despite environmental opposition, the United States is emerging as the world’s energy powerhouse. US energy production is not only good for US industry and the US economy, but exports increasingly provide low-cost energy for Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world.
Steve Goreham is a speaker on the environment, business, and public policy and author of the book Outside the Green Box: Rethinking Sustainable Development.
‘Electrification’: The Road to Higher Energy Prices
By Steve Goreham -- January 3, 2018
“Electrification calls for a massive societal transformation from gasoline to electric vehicles, from traditional power plants to wind and solar generators, and from gas heating to electric and heat pump systems. There is no evidence that this transition will have any measurable effect on global temperatures. But electrification will produce substantially higher energy prices.”
“Electrification” is the new buzz word touted by climate fighters and environmental groups. Where electrification once meant providing electricity to people, today it often means elimination of traditional fuels. But the only tangible result of green electrification policies will be higher energy prices.
Proponents of electrification intend to force transportation and heating and cooling systems to run on electricity, and eliminate the use of hydrocarbon fuels. Electric cars, electric furnaces and water heaters, and heat pumps must replace gasoline-powered vehicles and gas-fueled appliances. In addition, wind or solar systems must supply the electricity, not power plants using coal or natural gas, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
California’s 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan calls for a 40-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and an 80-percent reduction by 2050. Goals call for 4.2 million plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid cars on California roads by 2030, up from about 300,000 today. The plan also calls for electrification of space and water heating.
Utility Southern California Edison (SCE) recommends an even more aggressive plan. The SCE “Clean Power and Electrification Pathway” plan calls for 7 million electric cars on California roads by 2030 and for one-third of state residents to replace their gas-fired furnaces and appliances by 2030.
Nine other states promote adoption of electric cars as part of a broad electrification program. New England states are exploring “strategic electrification” in order to meet tough emissions reduction goals. In most of these efforts, cost to consumers is rarely discussed.
Electrification has become a global quest. Germany, Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom propose to ban sales of internal combustion engine cars by 2040. The Dutch government proposes to eliminate gas as a source of heating and cooking from all homes by 2050. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht announced intentions to become “gas-less neighborhoods.”
Electrification will be expensive. Most Americans don’t want electric cars. Large subsidies from taxpayers and mandates on auto companies and consumers will be required to force adoption. Furnaces and appliances powered by heat pumps, solar, and electricity are almost always more expensive than using natural gas or propane models.
A 2017 study by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority found that only four percent of the state’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning load could cost-effectively switch to heat pumps. The study recommended mandates to place an obligation on businesses and consumers to “source a certain portion of their heating and cooling load from renewable sources.”
According to proponents of electrification, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions the sourced electricity must come from renewables. Therefore, all electrification programs promote wind and solar generation systems, backed up by battery storage.
Today, the US is blessed with very low electricity costs. In 2016, the average wholesale electrical price, which is the price paid to generating facilities, ranged from only 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour in the Pacific Northwest to 3.6 cents per kW-hr in New England. Coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric, our traditional sources of power,deliveredmore than 90 percent of this low-cost electricity. Only 6.4 percent of our 2016 electricity came from wind and solar.
Actual costs of wind and solar systems tend to be hidden from the public, but when disclosed, can be hideously expensive. The California Solar Ranch, which began operation in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles in 2014, delivers electricity at over 15─18 cents per kW-hr, more than four times the market price. The 2013 Massachusetts solar build-out was the result of a 25 cents per kW-hr subsidy paid to commercial solar generators, boosting the total solar price to almost 30 cents per kW-hr.
But the Deepwater Wind Block Island project of Rhode Island takes first prize for outrageous renewable electricity cost. The five-turbine offshore system went into operation in 2016 at a contracted price of 23.6 cents per kW-hr, with an annual increase of 3.5 cents, placing the future price at over 40 cents per kW-hr. Who wants to pay ten times the market price for any product?
According to the Energy Information Administration, on average US electricity prices increased less than five percent during the eight years from 2008 to 2016. But over the same period, prices in nine of the twelve top wind states climbed between 13 and 37 percent, significantly higher than the national average increase. Commercial wind and solar systems are typically built far from cities, requiring new transmission lines, with costs passed on to electric rate payers. If electrification is adopted across our nation, look for escalating electricity prices.
Electrification calls for a massive societal transformation from gasoline to electric vehicles, from traditional power plants to wind and solar generators, and from gas heating to electric and heat pump systems. There is no evidence that this transition will have any measurable effect on global temperatures. But electrification will produce substantially higher energy prices.————--
Steve Goreham is an active speaker and writer on environment, business, and public policy. He is author, most recently, of the critically acclaimed primer, Outside the Green Box: Rethinking Sustainable Development.
MIT Admits: Electric Cars Are NOT Green, Pollute MORE Than Petrol Cars
November 23, 2017
Electric cars are considered pollution-free as they can help keep our cities and our planet clean. However, a recent study published by the Trancik Lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has revealed that electric cars are NOT as green as you think and are worse polluters than petrol and diesel cars.
The study claims that an electric Tesla Model S P100D saloon produces more carbon dioxide (at 226g per kilometer) than a petrol-driven Mitsubishi Mirage (at 192g per kilometer).
Though the MIT study has shocked green energy advocates, it is not the first time a study is raising concerns about pollution caused by electric cars. In 2016, a groundbreaking study conducted by Norway’s University of Science and Technology concluded that ‘larger electric vehicles can have higher life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions than smaller conventional vehicles.’
Independent energy experts have also debunked the ‘electric cars are green’ myth saying majority of the energy that charges the batteries of electric cars comes from the national grid.
In the U.K for example, latest figures by the Digest of UK Energy Statistics show that 51% of energy used to charge electric cars comes from power stations that burn fossil fuels such as gas and coal. Nuclear power is responsible for 21% while just under a quarter of the power comes from renewable sources.
Also, experts say mining the huge amounts of nickel, cobalt and lithium used in the manufacturing of batteries comes at an environmental cost.
According to a 2009 study, nickel was the eighth worst metal to mine and process in terms of global warming and pollution.
Villagers who live next to the Cerro Matoso nickel mine in Colombia have reported higher rates of respiratory diseases and birth defects, the study found. Also, lithium extracted from South American deserts results in one ton of carbon dioxide for every ton of lithium carbonate produced, it added.
Nico Meilhan, a car analyst and energy expert, told the Financial Times:
“If we really cared about CO2, we’d reduce car size and weight. If you switch from oil to cobalt and lithium, you have not addressed any problem. You have just switched your problem.”
Power Lines Are Burning the West
Human technology is responsible for more loss from fire than any other cause. But reducing fire’s impact will require changes to how people live, not just to the infrastructure that lets them do so.
MAY 25, 2018
The Cocos Fire burns in San Marcos, California, in 2014.
MIKE BLAKE / REUTERSIn October 2017, 250 square miles burned in Northern California, destroying6,000 homes and businesses and killing 44 people. For now, the cause of these fires has not been determined. The private utility company Pacific Gas and Electric, known to Californians as PG&E, is under investigation. Total damagefor the Northern California wildfires comes to $9 billion. PG&E has started stockpiling cash.
In California, this is a familiar story. Three years ago, in February of 2015, one-third of the houses in my remote neighborhood in Eastern California burned down. Here, before the fire, 100 houses lay scattered across the leeward flank of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The people who live here spend their time walking steep roads, listening to crickets, chasing mule deer out of the garden, and looking over a desert valley below. Days after the fire, my neighbor, Cassie, wasn’t doing any of these things. Instead, she stood inside her smoking foundation. Tall and easygoing with freckles on her nose, Cassie had come home from college that winter to sift rubble with her mom and dad. Under different circumstances, we might have hiked together or skated frozen ponds. I used to carpool with her family to school, and I remember her house, wooden and gorgeous and overlooking a ravine from which flames later rose.
We wore rubber gloves to sort the rubble, but there was not much rubble to sort. The air smelled of sulfur, and mostly only dust lingered, as if a great storm had picked up the walls and roof and furniture and lifted everything away.
Like the 2017 fires in Northern California, the cause of the fire that burned our neighborhood, according to the government database, is still under investigation. One source is more likely than others: On that day, strong winds whipped power lines that hung over dry brush.
A power line can start a fire if it breaks in the wind. It can start a fire when a tree or a branch falls across it, or when lines slap together, or when equipment gets old and fails without anyone noticing. In 2015, fires started by electrical lines and equipment burned more acres in California than any other cause. Power lines sparked fires that set records in New Mexico and fed a blaze in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that entered the city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and killed 14 people in 2016. In recent years, they have consistently been among the three major causes of California wildfires.
Hurricane-force winds periodically shriek off the Pacific and rattle California. Wind strong enough to break a power line spreads fire fast. This past October, when I sniffed the air and found that California was once again burning, I looked around and saw many wires thatching an orange sky. I was visiting my aunt in Northern California, 50 miles from the fires. We sat inside and watched the noon sun dim.
My childhood home didn’t burn the year Cassie’s did. But it should have. Dry leaves lay in piles beside the wooden walls. The volunteer fire captain’s house across the street burned, although he maintained plenty of defensible space. And so I wait, even now, for the next windstorm.
In the months after my neighborhood burned, I waited fearfully, which means I waited angrily. In particular, I hoped power companies would put their lines underground. In 1995, fire-related costs ate up 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Service budget. By 2015, half of the budget was devoted to fire. Some of us wondered how safe our power can be when utility-company profits drive power operations. PG&E has been found guilty of negligence before in wildfires, and some of us point at negligence and greed again this time.
There’s a precedent for fire occurring alongside an infrastructure that drives economic growth. From 1870 until the 1920s, most major fires in America were caused by locomotives. We fixed that problem, says Stephen Pyne, a firefighter-turned-historian. “New laws were enforced, fines and lawsuits applied economic pressure, engines were compelled to replace coal with oil as fuel, suitable spark arrestors were invented, rights-of-way were cleaned of debris, lines were patrolled.” And so locomotives started wildfires for decades, but not forever.
Like railroads, power lines deliver a seemingly limitless supply of a product wherever people want it. On a good day, the grid makes life easy. Far from urban centers, in my house up the side of a mountain, in an ocean of dry brush, the lights still flick on.
In general, power lines only cause fire when things go wrong above ground. Even utility companies agree, after a 2012 study by the Edison Electric Institute revealed that underground lines had fewer problems during storms and were better for public safety all around. But California has 210,000 miles of electrical lines. The cost to put lines underground is about $1 million per mile to start, and much more in mountainous areas. That’s five to 10 times what it costs to hang a line overhead, which usually makes underground lines logistically or economically impractical. In North Carolina, for example, a plan to put power lines underground was dropped because utility rates in the impacted area would have risen by 125 percent.
And despite the impulse to blame industry, the power companies aren’t entirely in control of the solution. California utility companies don’t get to decide how much line they install underground; that matter is regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, in order to “protect consumers,” “safeguard the environment,” and “assure Californians’ access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure,” according to the organization’s stated mission. The commission balances risk with cost and limits how much utility companies can spend by putting wires underground. Other improvements to the grid are being investigated, including better line insulation and technology that could anticipate line failure and shut off power in advance. But all of these solutions will be slow and costly to implement. I might get angry with utility companies, but I like to turn lights on in the dark.
In the United States, fossil fuels burned to make electricity and heat put more greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere than any industry. My neighbors’ houses burned amid the worst drought California had seen in a millennium. In recent decades, wildfires in the American West have begun to range farther and burn longer. Scientists from eight universities got together in 2016 and looked at tendencies in wildfire and the ways we manage wildfire. They concluded that “wildfires across western North America have increased in number and size over the past three decades, and this trend will continue in response to further warming.” They called this a “new era.”
Fires burn bigger areas and destroy three times as many houses as they used to. What was once a problem in June, July, and August now extends through November and beyond. I evacuated for avalanche warnings in the winters of my childhood. In February 2015, I wandered my neighborhood and gaped at new patches of sky, as smoke seeped out of the ground.
When a fire comes up the side of the mountain and destroys our homes, we say: natural disaster. When lightning starts that fire, we say: natural disaster. When power lines start that fire, we still say: natural disaster. Deliberate debris burning, fireworks, and rogue campfires are among the most common causes of so-called wildfire in some parts of California. Still, when people consider wildfire—even wildfire caused by human tools—it seems to us as inescapable as lightning.
Three years after her house burned down, I asked my childhood neighbor Cassie whether she felt the fire that destroyed her house was inevitable. She lives in San Francisco now, where she prepares environmental impact reports for federal and state agencies. Her parents live in a house rebuilt atop the ashes of the old. “The smell of smoke made me nauseous,” Cassie told me, while Napa and Sonoma burned last fall. “I woke up in the middle of the night because I could smell it. It felt so close.”
Cassie did not consider the loss of her home unavoidable. When people treat fire as an inevitability, she said, its consequences become divorced from human behavior. What she saw on the local news after the Northern California fires were the stories of “people and families and homes,” over and over. It makes sense, because people’s lives are changed, she said. “But that’s always the focus, instead of the bigger issue ... instead of, this could have been prevented, and there’s a reason that it happened, and it’s connected to our infrastructure. But I just don’t think it’s something people want to talk about.” It sickened her, to feel fire’s heat, to smell its smoke, without facing its implications.
And those implications are complicated. “Many of the problems of fire management do not have technical fixes,” Pyne, the fire historian, wrote during the Northern California fires. “They depend on social choices hammered out in politics—appropriate land use, the purpose of public lands, competing economic interests, cultural values, and philosophies.”
It’s possible to update technology to dodge disaster, to a point. We can make advance warning systems for earthquakes, cloak first responders in nasa-developed fire suits, and mitigate rising sea levels with permeable pavement and rain gardens. We can also update technology to avoid having to change the assumptions that cause some of the problems in the first place. When locomotives burned forests, people changed the mechanics of trains—they didn’t reevaluate the long-term viability of rail. The need to move thousands of tons of lumber and coal and food and passengers at high speeds through forest and prairie and desert did not come into question. It’s easier to find a quick fix than it is to change culture.
Some biologists contend that our brains did not evolve to conceive of the long-term consequences of our choices; that we are not primed to master deep time but to put out small fires, if you will. Yet it appears we have also evolved to comprehend the far future, if only in flashes. We operate, Pyne writes, “not according to strict evolutionary selection but in the realm of culture, which is to say, of choice and confusion.”
The night our neighborhood went up in smoke, I was 2,000 miles away. I sat on the floor and held a phone to my ear while my father described our mountain, burning. I gathered the things I had taken from my childhood bedroom around me like talismans and I imagined the world in flames.
My house survived the fire because the volunteer fire captain, who drove up his street in a fire truck and saw his own house burning, had the presence of mind to keep moving, to keep working to save what remained. He or another volunteer doused the flames that devoured a pile of railroad ties in our yard, flames that could have laddered up our brush hill and laced fingers through the railings of the porch.
Eventually, the scientists say, wildfires in the western United States might dwindle. This could happen when precipitation withers to the point that vegetation doesn’t come back. The fires will end when there is nothing more to burn. Cassie and I would like to choose a world in which there is a lot left to lose—we would prefer to protect our mountain homes, not to mention our larger communities and the global climate, and direct our lives in ways that will save what we love. Others would, too. Last October somebody put up signs in Sonoma that said, “The Love in the Air Is Thicker Than the Smoke.”
For those of us living in the path of wildfire, we have come to understand that we must live with it, that no quick solution awaits us, that changing the ways we think and being open to new ways of living might protect our communities. Pyne writes that fire as we know it is “largely the outcome of what this creature has done, and not done.” Humans have changed fire, and fire will change us, one way or another. We can try to choose the way. Maybe this means smarter technology, already in the works. Maybe it means making new relationships with fire, making fire a tool, listening to the people who understand fire when it’s time to rebuild and then rebuilding in different ways, or even in different places.
The scientists say we can choose to accept wildfire as “as an inevitable catalyst of change,” and we can adapt. Here, in a nation that currently suppresses 95 percent of all wildfires, at great cost and with questionable efficacy, it might be best to focus more on guiding the way fire burns. Communities can put more resources into controlled burns—more than 99 percent of which stay within selected boundaries—and teach the public about their benefit. Local governments can help educate and support landowners in fuel removal and property protection. And both residents and developers can think carefully before they build farther into wilderness, which is, after all, fire’s country.
And yet it’s hard to work to change more than the technology—to change ourselves in order to accommodate and support these adaptations. It’s easy instead to slip back into life as we know it, to forget what a new era may ask of us, even when the stakes are very high. “Despite the fact that I feel very passionately about a lot of these issues, and they impact me personally, I don’t think about it day to day,” Cassie said. “At all. Ever.” And neither do I. This is life, the slow build of the wind on the Pacific, the heave of power over our heads.
‘Sustainable’ Fuels Unlikely to Replace Hydrocarbons for Air Travel
By Steve Goreham -- January 2, 2019
“Hydrocarbon fuels will remain essential for modern air travel. So-called sustainable aviation fuels are expensive, produced in negligible volumes, and provide CO2 savings only on paper. As such, they fail the real sustainability test of affordability, plenty, and reliability.”
Air travel is a miracle of our modern society. In 1620, the pilgrims took 65 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean by sailing ship and two passengers died during that hazardous journey. Today, a single jumbo jet safely transports more than 300 passengers from London to New York in under eight hours. Millions flew to see loved ones this last Christmas. But jet planes burn hydrocarbon fuel, an energy source under attack.
Each day, more than 100,000 commercial flights carry more than 11 million passengers a combined total of 14 billion passenger miles worldwide. More than 99 percent of these flights are powered by aviation fuel from petroleum.
Commercial air travel poses a problem for climate change fighters. There is no viable low-carbon substitute for most of today’s air travel. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of the United Nations warns that the aviation industry exhausts two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Aircraft CO2 emissions are projected to quadruple by 2050 from 2010 levels.
Government officials have long been concerned about greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes. Germany, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, levied eco-taxes on air travel and other nations have threatened to do so. Lord Turner, past chairman of the UK Parliament committee on climate change stated, “In absolute terms, we may have to look at restricting the number of flights people take.”
Because of the growing threat of climate change-driven taxes, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association of the world’s airlines, adopted voluntary goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These goals are to
1) improve fuel efficiency,
2) to cap emissions through “carbon neutral growth,” and
3) to cut carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2050.
Commercial airlines have a long history of improving fuel efficiency, an excellent goal, which reduces the cost of operations. But goals to reduce CO2 emissions are impractical.
Airlines are counting on what they call Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) to provide most of the CO2 emission reductions. While traditional aircraft fuels are refined from petroleum, sustainable alternative fuels are produced from vegetable oils or biomass, such as soybeans, sugar cane, or algae. SAF is designed to be a “drop-in” fuel, able to be blended up to 50 percent with traditional jet fuel and used in all existing aircraft and airport infrastructure.
The Finnish company Neste is a leading producer of SAF, beginning production in 2011. Neste produces its fuel from recycled cooking oil. But recycled cooking oil is expensive to gather. As a result, Neste fuel is three or four times the price of traditional aviation fuel, reducing airline demand. Neste is lobbying for “regulatory incentives” to force the use of SAF.
If sustainable aviation fuels are adopted, the scale of the capacity required would be huge. According to the ICAO, replacement of traditional aviation fuel from hydrocarbons with SAF would require170 new large bio refineries to be built every year from 2020 to 2050 at a cost of up to $60 billion per year. Today, far less than one percent of global aviation fuel is a sustainable version.
But it’s not clear that “sustainable” aviation fuels will significantly reduce CO2 emissions. When traditional aviation fuel combusts, about three tons of carbon dioxide are created from each ton of fuel. When SAF is burned, about three tons of CO2 is also exhausted for each ton of fuel. So how can it be that the use of sustainable fuels reduces emissions?
Sustainable advocates promise carbon savings by assuming that combustion of biomass is carbon neutral. Their logic says that plants grow and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, which is then released when SAF or other fuels are burned. But since plants grow and absorb CO2 on land not used for biofuels, converting land to biofuels double counts the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere. SAF emissions savings are only a paperwork mirage.
Hypocrisy in Flight
Sustainable advocates want “sustainability” for you and me, but not for themselves. Tens of thousands of attendees to the recent climate conference in Katowice, Poland arrived on commercial and private planes from all over the world. Most of these attendees fly to climate conferences every year to collectively warn about CO2 emissions.
At Katowice, former actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who flew to the conference, stated that he wished he could “be a terminator in real life, and be able to travel back in time and to stop all fossil fuels when they were discovered.” In the past, Schwarzenegger owned as many as four Hummers at one time. As governor of California, he flew on a private jet for three hours each day from the capitol in Sacramento to his home in southern California.
Hydrocarbon fuels will remain essential for modern air travel. So-called sustainable aviation fuels are expensive, produced in negligible volumes, and provide CO2 savings only on paper. As such, they fail the real sustainability test of affordability, plenty, and reliability.
Despite powerful concerns about the need to fight climate change, it is unlikely that renewable fuels will ever be a major source of aviation fuel. What is politically correct is far too economically incorrect.
Steve Goreham is a speaker on the environment, business, and public policy and author of, most recently, Outside the Green Box: Rethinking Sustainable Development.
100 Percent Renewables—Poor Policy for Ratepayers
By Steve Goreham -- October 29, 2018
“Cities and states pursuing 100 percent renewable electricity lay the foundation for a future painful lesson. Households and businesses will experience the shock of rapidly rising electricity prices as more renewables are added to the system.”
Two states and more than 80 cities and counties have now announced a goal of receiving 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. Wind, solar, and biofuels are proposed to replace electricity from coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. But evidence is mounting that 100 percent renewables is poor policy for US households and businesses.
More than 80 cities announced commitments to get 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources. Minneapolis committed to attaining 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030, Salt Lake City by 2032, and St. Louis by 2035. Nine counties and two states, California and Hawaii, have also made 100 percent renewable pledges.
Some cites already claim to get all power from renewables, generally by using a little electricity “sleight of hand.” Rock Port, Missouri claims to be the first US community powered by wind because it has a local wind farm. But when the wind doesn’t blow, Rock Port gets power from other generators in Missouri, a state that gets 77 percent of its electricity from coal and 97 percent from non-renewables in total.
On September 10, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 100, committing California to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2045. Brown stated,
It’s not going to be easy. It will not be immediate. But it must be done…California is committed to doing whatever is necessary to meet the existential threat of climate change.
But cities and states pursuing 100 percent renewable electricity lay the foundation for a future painful lesson. Households and businesses will experience the shock of rapidly rising electricity prices as more renewables are added to the system.
Wind and solar cannot replace output from traditional coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants, despite claims to the contrary. Wind and solar are intermittent generators. Wind output varies dramatically from high output to zero, depending upon weather conditions. Solar output is available for only about six hours each day when the sun is overhead and disappears completely on cloudy days or after a snowfall. Hydropower is a renewable source that can replace traditional power plants, but even this source is insufficient in years of drought or low snow runoff.
Experience shows that utilities can only count on about 10 percent of the nameplate capacity of a wind or solar facility as an addition to power system capacity. For example, on December 7, 2011, the day of peak winter electricity demand in the United Kingdom, the output of more than 3,000 wind turbines in the UK was less than five percent of rated output. The UK House of Lords recognized the problem a decade ago, stating “The intermittent nature of wind turbines…means they can replace only a little of the capacity of fossil fuel and nuclear power plants if security of supply is to be maintained.”
To achieve “deep decarbonization,” states will need to keep 90 percent of traditional power plants and add increasing amounts of wind and solar to existing systems. Total system capacity must first double and then triple as 100 percent renewable output is approached. A 2016 study by Brick and Thernstrom projected that California’s system capacity would need to increase from 53.6 gigawatts to 90.5 gigawatts at 50 percent renewables and to 123.6 gigawatts at 80 percent renewable output.
Rising system capacity means enormous electricity cost. In 2017, California received 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, excluding power from large hydroelectric plants. California 2017 residential electricity rates were 18.24 cents per kilowatt-hour, 50 percent higher than any other US western state.
From 2008 to 2017, California power rates rose 25 percent compared to the US national average increase of about 7 percent. But the worst is yet to come. As California adds renewable capacity to approach 100 percent renewables, generated cost of electricity will likely triple.
International examples show soaring electricity prices from renewables penetration. High levels of wind and solar in Germany and Denmark produced household electricity prices four times US rates. Renewable programs pushed power prices in five Australian provincial capital cities up 60 to 160 percent over the last decade. Wind, solar, and biofuel penetration in Ontario, Canada drove electricity prices up more than 80 percent from 2004 to 2016. Renewable output in these locations remains far below 100 percent.
Batteries … No Panacea
Green energy advocates recognize renewable intermittency and hope that advances in battery technology will save the day. Large-scale commercial batteries, they claim, will be able to store power during high levels of renewable output and then deliver power to the grid when wind and solar output is low.
But batteries are not the answer because of the large seasonal variation in renewable output. For example, wind and solar output in California in December and January is less than half of the output in summer months. Commercial large-scale batteries available today are rated to deliver stored electricity for only two hours or ten hours duration. No batteries exist that can store energy in the summer and then deliver it during the winter when renewable output is very low.
Superstition is powerful. There is no evidence that 100 percent renewable efforts, all combined, will have a measurable effect on global temperatures. Instead, cities and states that pursue 100 percent renewable policies will learn the hard lesson of skyrocketing electricity prices.
Steve Goreham is a popular speaker on the environment, business, and public policy and author of the Outside the Green Box: Rethinking Sustainable Development.